Since September 1st, 2009, Jose Bautista has played 152 games and received 647 plate appearances. That’s one season’s worth of playing time. In those 152 games, he has launched 50 home runs. It’s time to stop wondering when he’s going to go back to the hitter he used to be. He’s not going to. He has taken a step forward.
I’m not saying he’s going to keep hitting home runs at this pace, which is an unrealistic assumption even for the game’s premier power hitters. But we should recognize that Bautista has made changes to his offensive approach, and not assume that he’s simply getting lucky with balls flying over the wall.
Here are his flyball rates over the last three years.
2008 – 38.8%
2009 – 42.1%
2010 – 53.6%
You don’t have to look too hard to spot the pattern. Bautista has made a conscious decision to adjust his swing to gain more loft. In fact, if you saw the swing he took on his second home run last night – which was aided by some anger about being thrown out earlier – you can see exactly why Bautista is no longer hitting the ball on the ground.
He has a pronounced uppercut and he swings about as hard as humanly possible. These are not cheap home runs he’s hitting. Take a look at his home run charts from Hit Tracker.
There are a couple of squeakers on there, but for the most part, he’s been hitting bombs like the two he drilled last night. If we look at his HR/FB rate, you can see that his frequency of getting balls to clear the wall isn’t that unusual: 21.5 percent of his flyballs have left the park this year, which still ranks him behind Joey Votto (25.7%), Carlos Pena (23.7%), and Adam Dunn (21.7%). Over the past three years, five players have averaged a HR/FB rate of 21.5% or better, which isn’t exactly uncharted territory.
Bautista will likely never have a year like this again, but there’s no reason to think he’s going to revert back to the version we saw before last September. He has made changes that can stick, even if not quite to this degree, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Bautista hit 30 to 40 home runs each of the next several years.
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